Frameworks, Methodologies and Processes

As I was writing about ideas, I got caught in a couple of conversations about frameworks vs methodologies vs processes reminding me that there is some confusion about the differences between all three and how they fit together.

I’ll start by telling you that despite the way these terms probably sound to you, and the way they are often abused, they are not “fluffy” consulting words used to describe useless constructs whose only purpose it to help guys in suits look smart and charge high fees. The application and understanding of frameworks, methodologies and processes can transform businesses, they are why some companies, regardless of what you think of them, have grown to immense size and value.  So while it’s not super sexy, it’s not “SEO” or “Twitter” I would encourage you to put aside any preconceived notions you have about these topics and we’ll see if we can clarify some of the confusion.

Apply them as much are as little as you want but they will make a difference in your business.

Frameworks are by definition a little loose. They exist to provide structure and direction on a preferred way to do something without being too detailed or rigid. In essence, frameworks provide guidelines. They are powerful because they provide guidance while being flexible enough to adopt to changing conditions or to be customized for your company while utilizing vetted approaches.

The Idea Lifecycle Matrix mentioned  is an example of a framework and is very loose adoption of the more well known Capability Maturity Model or CMM. Truthfully you probably won’t be that rigid about your ideas but it was meant to be an applicable example.

A methodology is an approach to “doing something” with a defined set of rules, methods, tests activities, deliverables, and processes which typically serves to solve a specific problem. An example of a business methodology would be how, in a defined, planned manner, you test something, validate results, establish the deliverables and determine how to improve and monitor that “thing” on an ongoing basis. Methodologies demonstrate a well thought out, defined, repeatable approach. Using well worn methodologies provides a lot of support to the validity of the way you do something and the results you get which is important to your clients.

The scientific method is an example of a methodology (now just apply that thinking to business).

Processes are probably the easiest to understand since we all work with them daily, even when we don’t know it. A process is simply a well defined set of steps and decisions points for executing a specific task. Well planned and deeply understood processes are essential to your ability to automate business tasks. This is really where that magic happens, a the process level. Generally speaking, processes are highly repeatable and if it can be repeated it can be automated (with exceptions or occasional human intervention of course).

An example of a process would be how you process payments to vendors you work with and the steps and decisions involved in doing so. When working through processes and defining them be EXTREMELY detailed, otherwise attempts to automate will end in futility. Capture every action and decision and outline sub-processes as necessary.

Hopefully that clears up the differences between frameworks, methodologies and processes. While they appear somewhat hierarchical, and can be, they aren’t always necessarily so, particularly in both directions. Frameworks will typically have methodologies but not always. Methodologies will typically have [multiple] processes embedded, but some processes will be stand alone.

The real power of combining these things is in developing processes in the context of a methodology and applying methodologies in the context of a framework and most importantly, when you utilize all of those things in the context of YOUR business. The exact same approach won’t work for every business but every business, no matter how large or small, can benefit from applying these principles.


  1. recholes on October 23, 2012 at 8:27 am

    I happened upon this page while searching for clarification on the difference between framework and Methodology… and exact keyword match. How often do you get those ? He he… then I saw that you are into ideas and have made an Idea framework, too awesome. I know I know I am a geek. I am going to link back, to this page, but I would love to chat more with you on your thinking and how you came up with this idea. It is not often that I find others who so deep into idea development and business process all together. Shoot me an email let me know where else i can follow your writings/sharings whatever. I have a few questions… I will just ask them if you reply to me.

    Thanks. @recholes

    • Scott Ellis on October 23, 2012 at 8:49 am


      I came up with the idea based on applying the CMM to more than just software development. It just made sense in my head to apply it to coming up with better ideas.

      I’m a big fan of new ideas but… I’ll also be the first to say that ideas by themselves are worthless without execution.

      Happy to have chat back and forth here so hit me and we’ll talk!

    • recholes on October 23, 2012 at 8:29 am

      Uh… duh I was so excited I didn’t make it down to your footer, where all of your other contacts are listed.

  2. Asif on November 9, 2012 at 8:41 pm

    I have designed a framework with several components, each performing a specific task to achieve the goal. The rationale behind using the components is explained in Framework chapter. In methodology, i have explained in detail of how each of the components stated in the framework can be implemented including what is the input and output for a component. Is the way followed is correct? what should be focused in methodology and also in framework?

  3. Scott Ellis on November 11, 2012 at 1:39 pm


    It sounds like you’ve taken the right approach to me. Though the specific tasks may be better suited to defined processes but it’s hard for me to tell based on what I know. Otherwise sounds like you’re on the right track.


  4. Asif on November 11, 2012 at 8:25 pm

    Thank you Scott Ellis.

    In terms of writing, what needs to be highlighted in methodology as well as framework? since most of the components we mention in methodology is going to be in framework also. I mean, what has to be focused when writing methodology? and what need to be focused in framework?


    • Scott Ellis on November 12, 2012 at 3:28 pm

      Again, it’s really hard for me to say without knowing the specifics of what you need to accomplish. However, a framework can often be represented via a diagram with a little documentation. The deeper you go the more detail you put in. Methodologies can be more heavily documented and supported by diagrams (flow charts, swimlanes, etc…) while processes will typically have more of both.

  5. Asif on November 13, 2012 at 6:23 am

    To be specific, the confusion is in writing the methodology and framework.
    As to my understanding i written this way:
    In Methodology:
    Details of the data
    Data Pre-processing
    Overall Flow of the process or components towards the goal ( based on the Framework proposed)
    Rationale of using these process or components
    Evaluation metrics for each components

    In Framework:
    Formalization of the framework
    Details description of each component in the framework (Diagrams, flow chart)
    Experimental setting of each components

    Is that the correct way in terms of writing?

    • Scott Ellis on November 13, 2012 at 10:39 am

      Asif, it’s almost impossible for me to determine if it’s “right” there really isn’t a right or wrong answer as much as there are just general guidelines. That said, some of things you mention like details of the data could exist at a methodology level or a process level or might be supplemental information. The best advice I can give is to organize it in a way that makes the most sense for your particular situation.

      If you business needs more formalized help you’ll probably have to hire someone with experience to analyze your specific needs and help put those things together.

  6. Undercover Brother on September 22, 2013 at 9:55 pm

    Hi Scott,

    Thank you – you’ve put it down very nicely.

    I don’t think I can contribute much given that you’ve covered the topic well – however, here goes:

    from both an academic and from a professional industry-based perspective – seasoned with common sense and an understanding of the English langauge

    (Strangely, it’s pretty LOW in the UK, Australia, Canada, NZ and the USA – I constantly see immigrants who have a good laugh at the locals’ language disasters – an accent cannot hide bad language)

    IMHO, I’d go with dictionary definitions, and apply those definitions to a situation.

    The problem is, if you try and look at the ‘industry’, there is a bunch of self-propagating trash – in that various corporates publish their own version of life, frameworks and the like.

    E.g. IBM calls it’s framework based on the Unified Process a ‘process’ – the Rational Unified Process – which is actually a framework when you look at it. Coming from a big player in the industry, this is misinformation and bad terminology at its best.

    As for enterprise terminology re: frameworks and methodologies, most big corporates and government agencies are run by morons who have their own definitions of these terms – probably inspired by IBM.

    (pardon my French!)

    I’ve seen at least one top level official (CIO/CEO/CFO/CTO) look at a process flow diagram and call it a ‘framework’.

    BoKs are bodies of knowledge that describe elements and knowledge areas that may be used as a framework, and approaches to building models/methodologies based on that framework.

    Academic definitions of a framework suggest that unless you loosely bundle your guidelines while touching on enterprise standards, procedures and processes together at an enterprise level, you don’t have a framework.

    Until you distill a framework into tools, methodologies governing processes, and standards that act as gateways in procedures within those methodologies, you don’t have a methodology.

    Very broadly, the Framework is ‘what’ the enterprise is aiming for, or the ‘where’ for that matter- in the broadest sense, and the Methodology is the ‘how’ that includes methods, rules, tools etc.

    I’m sure every corporate worth its shares would be out there molesting that definition till it is no more sensible than the US Dollar as a reserve currency.

  7. Teneicia Reid on April 18, 2016 at 11:10 am

    Can I have some more examples of Methodologies?

  8. SB on June 24, 2017 at 2:00 pm

    I came upon this page whilst searching for the difference between “system” and “framework”, I am looking for a best way to explain the difference between Service Management System and Service Management Framework.
    Greatly appreciate if you could explain it to me, please.
    Many thanks

    • Scott Ellis on June 26, 2017 at 11:11 am

      Without more info I’m not really sure what to say. The fundamental difference should be the same as I explained them, only applied to your specific context.

  9. Manch Kersee on October 30, 2017 at 10:49 pm

    This is execellent. I started reading a book that started using the terms methodologies and processes. I thought they were synonymous but the book referenced them separately. This page came up on my keyword search. As a bonus I also got frameworks as well. Your page has helped me further refine my business model and will allow me to enhance my value proposition.

    Thanks a bunch

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